Randy Moller’s “office” during all the Florida Panthers’ home games and some on the road is smaller than a coffin — and sometimes after a game, it feels like he’ll need one.
His work space as Fox Sports Florida’s “between the benches” reporter is just six feet long by less than two feet wide, and it’s not unusual for him to be hit by errant pucks and sticks. Big and bruising NHL bodies go whizzing by him, too, making this perhaps the most thrilling and dangerous job in sports broadcasting.
There’s no glass in front of Moller, and the boards stop below his waist, leaving him almost completely exposed as he watches games and reports what he learns from his up-close vantage point.
And, unlike referees, Moller does not wear a helmet.
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Moller said he was hit by three errant pucks in one recent game, and he still regrets the time when Panthers left winger Jonathan Huberdeau came over the boards and ruined Moller’s thousand-dollar suit.
On Thursday night, as the Panthers played host to the Philadelphia Flyers, Moller — a former NHL defenseman — was witness to breathtaking excitement right from the drop of the puck.
The first few minutes of what became a 3-2 Panthers’ victory featured a 5-on-3 power play with one puck ringing off the far post. There was also one scrum near the center-ice boards where Moller stood. And as the latter happened, Moller looked back at a Miami Herald reporter standing safely behind glass and grinned.
“See what I mean?” Moller said.
Moller, a 54-year-old Canadian from Red Deer, Alberta, is proud of the work he does. An example of the type of information Moller provides occurred on Dec. 17 as the Panthers played their first game at the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights.
During the second period, Moller noticed that NHL linesman Steve Miller was struggling merely to skate.
“I could tell on his face,” Moller said of the referee. “At one point, he leans over the bench and tells me that the airline lost all his equipment. Everything he was wearing was borrowed, and the skates didn’t fit him properly.”
Moller went on the air and broke the story. The cameras focused on Miller as Moller talked about the linesman’s professionalism, doing his job under adverse conditions.
Panthers play-by-play man Steve Goldstein said that’s just one example of how Moller is invaluable to the FSF broadcasts.
“I like knowing what is being said or what is happening from someone so close to the ice,” Goldstein said. “I’m interested in that, and I think the viewers are, too, because that’s somewhere we can’t go. That’s always the best stuff.”
HOW IT BEGAN
Football players stand on opposite sides of the field, and the same is true in baseball.
No other major team sport has its combatants sitting within 10 feet of each other as happens in hockey, which means Moller and other “between the benches” NHL reporters are privy to often hostile communications between opposing players.
The bench-reporter job was created by NBC in 2004 when executive producer Sam Flood pitched the idea to broadcaster Pierre McGuire.
Moller, a first-round pick of the Quebec Nordiques in 1981, played more than a decade in the NHL. His fourth and final team was the Panthers, but, because of injuries, he suited up just 17 times for the Cats in his one season with the club (1994-95).
“I caught a disease,” Moller joked. “It’s called old age.”
Hockey Hall of Famer Bill Torrey was the Panthers’ president when Moller’s playing career was coming to an end. Torrey gave Moller a chance to work as a radio play-by-play guy. Moller proved so popular that the Panthers asked him to shift to this TV role in 2015.
Although Moller loved his radio job, he was “swayed” by the perch he had been given, sharing broadcasting duties with Goldstein and lead analyst Denis Potvin, who both report from the broadcast booth.
“I was intrigued I could be the second analyst and still be involved in the speed, passion, excitement and physicality of the game,” Moller said.
“From where I stand, I’m able to relay to our fans information that there’s no way ‘Goldie’ or Denis have access to from 150 feet in the air.”
FOLLOWING THE RULES
There are things Moller and other bench reporters won’t say — revealing strategy, for example.
As for other stuff Moller overhears, he has a basic rule.
“Players chirp at each other about their sisters and wives. I hear coaches get on players and officials. I’ve heard officials admit they blew a call,” Moller said. “But I try never to embarrass anybody with what I report. That’s not my gig.”
Moller said that not every NHL arena is equipped to have a reporter stand between the benches, and not every team has a reporter who does this job.
And some reporters who have tried it out have questioned Moller’s sanity.
“Most of the time, they try it once, and they never come back,” Moller said proudly. “One guy said, ‘I’ve got kids. I’ve got a future. I don’t want to die in Sunrise, Florida.”
Moller persists because he sees his job as connecting fans to the game he loves.
“The speed of the game has doubled in the past three years,” said Moller, adding a bit of hyperbole. “Every guy can skate 40 mph, and every guy can shoot 100 mph.
“I was an old, slow defenseman who fooled them for 13 years. But there is no chance I could have played even one game in today’s NHL.”
There’s no need for that — he’s already close enough to the action.
▪ Something positive: The Panthers entered Saturday’s home game against Montreal on a season-best four-game win streak.
▪ Something special: Although the power play is just 3-for-23 in the past nine contests, the penalty kill has been perfect in nine of the past 12 games. Since Nov. 22, Florida ranks second in the league in penalty-kill percentage, allowing just four power-play goals in 17 games. In addition, Florida’s seven shorthanded goals are tied for the most in the NHL.
▪ Hot goalie: James Reimer had his first shutout of the season last week and did not allow a goal over parts of three games, stretching out over 141:24 of game action. The streak finally ended during the third period of Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, which was his 10th straight start. Since starter Roberto Luongo went out with a right leg injury Dec. 4, Reimer is 6-3-1 with a .929 save percentage.
▪ Hot shooter: First-line left winger Jonathan Huberdeau entered Saturday with four goals in three games. “I guess I have to keep my family here [for more than just the holidays] — good food,” said Huberdeau, who has 13 goals this season, one away from Vincent Trocheck’s team lead. “Hubie” also leads the team with 36 points and 23 assists.
▪ Big Mac: Fourth-line center Derek MacKenzie ended his 31-game goal drought on Thursday with his first score of the season, and it came shorthanded. He also won all seven of his face-offs.
▪ Injury update: Right winger Radim Vrbata stayed home Thursday due to the flu. Defenseman Ian McCoshen (upper-body injury) missed his third straight game but is skating and could be back soon. Center Jamie McGinn returned after missing two games due to an upper-body injury. Trocheck played despite getting hit in the ribs with a puck in Florida’s previous game.
▪ Look ahead: Tuesday, Panthers at Minnesota Wild; Thursday, Panthers at Boston Bruins; Friday, Panthers at Detroit Red Wings; next Sunday, Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets.